Death On The Lawn
by Brenda Shoss
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The homes stand upon rigorously cultivated squares of green in pastoral Town and Country, Missouri. One single-acre lot flaunts a curious $3,200 asset unlike the mowers and mulch that mark other lawns. Katherine Burbott and her family are equipped with a clover net and captive bolt gun to kill at least 20 backyard deer.
As far as anyone can tell, the Burbotts favor the pistols--ordinarily designated for slaughterhouse use--over fencing, landscape changes, chemical repellents, or scare devices. The Missouri Department of Conservation didn't request proof of non-violent attempts to resolve deer/Burbott discord when it issued the state's first captive bolt permit. The Burbotts have agreed to supervise traps and report fresh kills to MDC administrators who will file forms on every deer slated for Share the Death (Harvest) Program.
MDC claims captive bolt guns are "safe, responsible, and effective." If the goal is painful death, one cannot argue its efficacy. Any resident compelled to wrestle a frantic, untranquilized deer into submission and fire a four-inch retractable metal shunt into the animal's brain ought to consider relocation to deerless environs.
Town and Country is among a legion of U.S. communities that report wildlife/human disharmony. Deer can certainly wreak vegetative damage on the suburban turf paved over much of the nation's woodlands and fields. Mellow winters, scarcity of natural predators and lawns that offer ideal "edge" habit invite white-tailed deer to nibble undaunted.
Dena Jones, former wildlife director at the Animal Protection Institute (API), says deer overpopulation claims are seldom substantiated with hard scientific data. "Relentless development has put people more frequently in contact with wildlife. And, in some cases, 'managed' sport hunting which deliberately produces larger deer herds has exacerbated the problem. Humans are simply not willing to tolerate the consequences of their presence."
It comes as no surprise that fish and game agencies readily grant licenses to kill in the backyard. Most reflect MDC's opinion that lethal "management of wildlife resources, particularly deer, is necessary in today's human-altered world." Conservation departments, which rely on revenue from hunting, trapping and fishing interests, view wildlife as a commodity. "As a result, they cater to consumptive wildlife users, effectively excluding the opinions of the 94% of Americans who choose not to hunt or trap wildlife," says Camilla Fox, API's wildlife program coordinator.
Landscape damage and deer collisions (the result of surplus roadways) hardly seem worth the bloodshed--when a blend of humane methods can effectively alleviate deer dilemmas.
Fencing: University extension services, landscape firms or nurseries can determine which fencing system best suits a site's topography and vegetation. Perimeter chain link, wooden or wire fencing safeguard entire lawns. Mesh netting over separate trees, shrubs or groundcover subdues browsing during deer-heavy periods.
Landscape Modification: Property margins edged with native repellent plants (Catnip, Chives, Garlic, Honeybush, etc.) and resistive hedge, vines, flowers and groundcover (Daphne, Douglas fir, Euonymous, Holly, Jasmine, Juniper, Black-eyed Susan, Chrysanthemum, Zinnia, etc.) reduce temptation. Hedge barriers and garden terraces diminish view and landing spots for deer. Trimmed and weeded lawns without fallen fruit also attract less deer.
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